How Software Streamlines Fabrication Functions

By Jordan Scott

Automation is changing the game for fabricators, making production safer, more efficient and less labor intensive. While machinery is becoming more advanced, software helps bring the entire production process together, furthering a plant’s efficiencies. From enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to individual manufacturer programs, today’s fabricators have more software tools at their disposal than ever before.

ERP software allows fabricators to manage all manufacturing transactions throughout their plant, from quote creation, to shipping. The software tracks orders through the entire production process.

What Can ERP Systems Do?

Josh Rudd, sales executive with A+W North America of Deerfield, Ill., says his company has partnered with major machinery manufacturers to be able to run its software through 500 different fabrication machines.

ERP software such as A+W Clarity or FeneTech’s FeneVision takes data from order entry programs and ensures that the data can be processed by the machine directly.

“This eliminates the time needed for an operator to pull details from a different file or to hand-build the process, which a lot of fabricators still do,” says Rudd.

If a new manufacturer begins making glass fabrication machinery or an existing manufacturer creates a new machine, A+W can work with them to ensure that the ERP software can input code the machinery can accept.

Dave Miller, business development executive for FeneTech Inc. of Aurora, Ohio, says his company also works with suppliers to identify the best way to interface with a new machine.

The information exchange with each piece of machinery depends upon the machines’ own programming.

ERP systems can be installed on a local server and deployed to various computers in the plant or it can work using a virtual server environment.  Rudd says it depends upon the customer’s size and resources.

Factory Implementation

Rudd says his company recommends a phased approach to ERP software
implementation.

“Taking on an ERP project in one giant bite is, indeed, one giant bite. We phase it in with the most important goals first and create a good base system to build future modules efficiently,” he says.

Implementing an ERP system with a simple machine that has a basic display can be done in a couple of weeks, according to Rudd. However, a plant-wide implementation with full training can take several years.

“It depends upon the resources of the company,” he adds. “With any ERP system it’s not only the cost investment of the software but making sure management and key personnel are completely on board with the implementation … Everyone needs to be committed.”

Miller agrees that a company’s resources, such as technical experts, can ensure smooth, quick implementation.

“The companies that are less technical have to rely more on us and the machinery supplier, whereas those with technical resources on staff can do a lot of the groundwork ahead of time to tie different pieces together,” he says.

Rudd adds it’s useful if companies go into the process with a strong understanding of their current production process flow. This will allow the team to align the office and production goals with the appropriate solutions within A+W Clarity.

Not only do companies have to plan for what a machine can do, but also what a machine cannot do. Miller says limitations such as maximum sizes can be built into the software so it doesn’t try to send units outside of the limitations to a machine that can’t process them.

The biggest challenge FeneTech runs into is when a company hasn’t made enough detailed decisions about what it wants the automation to do.

“It’s easy to say you want to process glass but another thing to give details on what processing glass means … A lot of it comes down to defining goals and variables of the process,” says Miller. “If a company runs the same process all the time it’s a lot simpler than one unit getting one process and another getting a secondary process.”

FeneTech tries to guide companies using what it’s found to work best. Miller says the implementation process is a good opportunity for companies to analyze how they’re doing business and to correct things that may need correction.

Reaping the Benefits

Software gives companies more control over their plants while increasing safety and efficiencies. Rudd says this is crucial in the competitive glass industry.

“Companies need to become more efficient to prosper in the market and survive when times get lean. Companies are faced with labor shortages,” he says. “It’s important for companies to take their own human resources and get the best possible production with the people they have on staff.”

Another benefit of implementing an ERP software is that these systems help define the fabrication process, making it easier to put a new person into a role when the time arises. This makes companies less reliant on tribal knowledge when a senior employee leaves or retires, says Rudd.

Miller adds that ERP software does more than allow companies to input production information. It also allows them to pull data and analyze it.

Production Data

Manufacturer-specific software can convey performance data to a fabricator and the machinery manufacturer for preventative maintenance and production efficiency tracking.

Sophia is a software program that can be used with any Biesse machinery to track production. Ron Lorick, West Coast product area manager for Intermac, a Biesse company in Pesaro, Italy, says the program allows fabricators to track productivity and maintenance.

“When a machine does have an error, it’s reported across the Sophia platform and lets us know a machine is in error to automate a response to any downtime,” says Lorick.

Sophia Parts can order the needed part for a machine in error automatically. Intermac receives that order, which is then automatically processed and the part can be shipped out overnight.

“It streamlines the maintenance and minimizes downtime. It makes it that much easier to get the machine back up and running,” says Lorick.

The data Intermac receives from its machines in the field allows it to better its predictive maintenance model.

Glaston, based in Tampere, Finland, has created Glaston Insight to provide additional production data to customers. Sami Kelin, business unit director for the company, says the program allows fabricators to follow production rates, quality and energy consumption. It comes installed on new furnaces or tempering lines and can be installed on some older lines. The company is also bringing its lamination lines under the same service.

Kelin expects Insight will be able to calculate how well the tempering was done and anticipates that products tempered improperly would not be allowed to continue production.

“Quality control is the key. Online quality measurement systems are practically standard in a modern, safe glass factory. This combined with the process modeling can be used to actually teach the tempering line how to optimize quality and energy efficiency,” says Kelin.

Jordan Scott is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. She can be reached at jscott@glass.com.

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